OBJECTIVES: Two biographies of Admiral Francis Beaufort (1774-1857) have stated that, aged 20-25 years, he suffered from porphyria cutanea tarda (PCT) that was 'cured' following severe blood loss during a naval skirmish. We have examined the evidence concerning the nature of his skin disease.
DESIGN: Primary records, most notably Beaufort's correspondence with his family, his journals and his father's diaries were sought out and analysed.
SETTING: This case report is discussed in the context of 18th-century naval medicine and concepts and treatment of skin disease.
RESULTS: The description of his lesions, their age of onset, their progression and response to treatment, particularly topical tar and associated features are quite inconsistent with a diagnosis of PCT. His mother, Mary Waller Beaufort (1739-1821), consulted Dr Robert Darwin in 1803 about a painful skin disease affecting her legs. Detailed description of the lesions and a contemporary diagnosis are not available but possible diagnoses include chronic psoriasis and stasis eczema.
CONCLUSIONS: A more tenable diagnosis is that Francis Beaufort had chronic plaque psoriasis remitted by bed rest and convalescence in the sunny Mediterranean climate with cessation of alcohol consumption and improved nutrition as well as topical and oral medications.